Music’s Impending Apocalypse

Music’s Impending Apocalypse

Posted by Mike (Shmoo) on May 23, 2007 at 6:51 PM   (printer friendly)

by George Ziemann — May 22, 2007

They’ve ripped off the musicians for decades. At the tail end of the 90s, the record labels decided it was time to screw with music fans as well, not content to charge $16 for a CD that costs about $1 to produce. They sued web sites, then manufacturers of mp3 players and peer-to-peer companies. Still not content, the labels started adding spyware and cripple-ware to audio CDs, punishing the paying customer. Now they’re suing their core fan base (college students) and raising the royalty rates high enough to threaten the existence of webcasting.

It almost seems like they would have run out of people to piss off. Almost.

Yesterday, a satirical article at The Onion (“RIAA Sues Radio Stations for Giving Away Free Music”) was only a few hours ahead of the Los Angeles Times article announcing “Artists and labels seek royalties from radio”.

“For years, [broadcast radio] stations have paid royalties to composers and publishers when they played their songs. But they enjoy a federal exemption when paying the performers and record labels because, they argue, the airplay sells music. Now, the RIAA and several artists’ groups are getting ready to push Congress to repeal the exemption…”

So that’s the basic issue. The record labels want royalties from radio. Again. We’re back to 1922. If this isn’t already setting off the irony alarm, it should be. I’m wondering if the author of the article is a paid cheerleader or just unfamiliar with what’s really going on.

There’s a paragraph about the sad, sad state the industry is in. We also are told that the labels have tried this before but “politically powerful broadcasters beat back those efforts.” This time, “the record companies and musicians have a strong hand.” I suppose this means they have purchased as many congressmen as the broadcasters.

“The groups have a major ally in Rep. Howard L. Berman, who now chairs the House subcommittee dealing with intellectual property law. Berman is ‘actively contemplating’ leading a legislative push to end the exemption.”

“‘Given the many different ways to promote music now that didn’t exist as effectively when this original exemption was made,’ he said, “the logic of that I think is more dubious.'”

What I find most dubious is that none of the people quoted nor the author of the article seem to remember that the labels (and broadcasters) just got nailed for payola. From the mid-1960s until late last year, the record labels have been paying radio to get airplay.

The government had to intervene to stop payola. Now Berman is going to intervene again and make radio pay the record labels. Shameless greed at work, as the RIAA maliciously slaps radio in the face for keeping its labels alive all these years.

It seems rather bizarre that someone who works for the LA Times could write this story and ignore the glaringly obvious connection to payola.

A last quote from the article:

“The creation of music is suffering because of declining sales,” said RIAA Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol. “We clearly have a more difficult time tolerating gaps in revenues that should be there.”

I think he’s got it all backwards, as usual. Music sales are declining because the record labels stopped worrying about the creation of music a decade ago and started attacking anyone and everyone who used to listen to music. Gaps in revenue? Not only has the payola bill disappeared, the labels are saving billions in promotional copies that they no longer send out. (In 2000, the industry sent out 290 million promotional copies representing 27 percent of the total units shipped. Last year it was 89 million, just under 14 percent of the total.)

The RIAA’s time is almost up. They’re no good for music; they’re no good for the music business. Their product is tainted. We don’t need the RIAA equalization curve any longer, either. They no longer serve any useful purpose whatsoever.

Pretty soon we get to start over and go back to when the music was more important than the money.

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